This is the thirtieth-anniversary edition of the Best of Denver, and the city’s never looked better.
In many ways, it’s almost unrecognizable from the Denver we celebrated in the Best of Denver 1984, which hit the much-less-crowded streets almost seven years after this paper published its first edition, in 1977. That first Best of Denver was the biggest issue we’d published up to that point — and about the size of an average weekly edition today. We were still a decade away from archiving our print stories at westword.com, two decades away from pushing our Best of Denver Readers’ Poll vote there, three decades away from today, when we publish dozens of new stories on our four blogs every weekday, including Best of Denver lists that highlight not just the winners, but top contenders.
But while Denver in 2014 is a changed city from Denver in 1984, some very familiar landmarks continue to stand out, winners from thirty years ago that remain unbeatable: Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the Tattered Cover Bookstore, and so many more.
Since that first Best of Denver issue, we’ve handed out more than 15,000 awards — thirty of which are celebrated in Noah Van Sciver’s illustrated look at the Best of Denver through the decades that starts on page 12. Some categories — Best Mobile Hot Tub? — have disappeared, reflecting how trends come and go in a boom-and-bust-and-boom town; others, like the sections devoted to recreational pot, are just beginning to heat up.
Through thirty years of Best Ofs, two things have never changed. Although we’ve always polled our readers for their votes in dozens of categories, they represent just a fraction of the total categories in the Best of Denver — and the readers’ choices are noted by a line at the end of the editorial pick. (Why? Short answer: For nearly thirty years, our readers picked McDonald’s for Best French Fries, and while we respect the popular vote, an issue packed with answers like that would have all the nutrition of a fast-food meal.) And from the start, we made the cow the symbol of the Best of Denver. Back in the about-to-bust days of 1984, city boosters were worried that Denver’s cowtown reputation was holding us back. But from what? Over the years, residents — Denver natives and newcomers alike — have wisely come to recognize that this city’s Western heritage helps make Denver special. Entrepreneurs can wear cowboy boots and write computer code; city slickers can take in the National Western Stock Show one day, a rock concert the next.
The Best of Denver has become a giant beast of an issue that celebrates so much about what we love in this city, including its cowtown heritage. While we can’t honor everything every year, taken as a whole, the thirty years of the Best of Denver add up to one big love letter to our town. And as we send this 31st edition to press, we’re still high on the Mile High City.